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Columbia Spectator Staff

Columbia College 2007 class president David Chait is not running for a CCSC E-board position. But with an idea he has been kicking around for the last few months-merging the Columbia College and Engineering Student Councils into one representative body-it almost seems like he could be.

It's a big deal for Chait, who, with the support of junior Dan Okin, who was elected as ESC president Monday night, plans to make the initiative a focal point of his next year on the council. Playing with his baseball cap, the junior speaks with a tone of quiet conviction as he explains how much better a merged council could serve students.

"If we're supposed to be working together so closely, why aren't we fused into one bunch?" Chait asked rhetorically. "The only difference is academics, but it's complicated by a social divide that's created because of separate councils."

The councils do collaborate in many areas, from protesting over Baker Blast to planning Glass House Rocks. The two councils often cosponsor or pass similar resolutions, and they provide many of the same services for their constituents. Unlike Barnard and General Studies, SEAS and CC students live, work, and eat together at nearly every point in their college careers-accordingly, SGA and GSSC are excluded from Chait's vision.

But it only takes a little reasoning to understand why Chait wouldn't run for the top job on a pro-merger platform. Three major issues give the proposition long odds of success: logistics, administrators, and SEAS pride.

The practical problem of how the new council would be constituted is not, in purely logical terms, all that complicated. It would involve a reduction in the total number of offices, eliminating redundancies between the two bodies. But asking people to axe their positions, even in the future-the 30-member ESC tried and failed to slim down during its recent constitutional review-is not usually a winning proposition. The transition would have to be at least a two-year process, requiring complete buy-in from Okin and Chait's successors. A referendum to the student body would provide such a mandate, but even bringing the issue to a vote seems like an uphill battle.

In dealing with the powers that be, a combined council would arguably speak with a stronger voice, and administrators might not see a student body with increased leverage as particularly desirable. But perhaps the greater administrative obstacle is SEAS Dean Zvi Galil, who is widely reported to be fiercely protective of his school's independence. Although he probably couldn't overrule a resounding endorsement from the student body, he would have to give the plan formal approval.

"He can really change it really quickly," Okin said, noting that Galil has a much more hands-on management style than CC Dean Austin Quigley. "He would be wary of the merger because he would be worried that SEAS would be playing second fiddle, which already happens within the administration."

Finally, any effort to combine the councils could potentially come up against a wall of school pride, particularly on the SEAS side. Spirited ESC members could effectively oppose the initiative by whipping up fears of CC domination and the loss of SEAS identity. Both Chait and Okin sympathize with the desire to preserve the special bond shared by engineers, but counter with the idea that Columbia pride is a better alternative, offering the prospect of greater alumni allegiance.

"Pride is great, but at a school that lacks so much school spirit we can't afford to keep dividing our spirit up," said Chait.

The potential for change is in the air, but these instigators have some serious convincing to do. And if they're not successful?

It was just an idea.